The best and worst countries for parents’ work-life balance

Tired of all work (and children) and no play? Here’s where you can move so as to enjoy a better quality of life


Many parents struggle to balance the day-to-day responsibilities of raising a family with work commitments. And understandably so — it’s an immense task and one that doesn’t leave much time for a personal life.

With this in mind, we set out to compare the support available for parents in different countries around the globe to find the best place to live if you have children and want to have the perfect balance between work and family life.

We looked at 35 countries in total, cross-referencing seven key data points including public spending on family benefits, statutory leave, and the average number of hours worked annually to make a holistic assessment of parents’ work-life balance. We applied weights to these data points to determine the final ranking, judging some to be more important than others.

And the results are in. These are the best countries for parents' work-life balance:


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Jump to: Methodology


The top 10

The best countries for parents’ work-life balance
Rank
Country
Score
1Sweden
21.49
2Luxembourg
26.21
3Germany
26.58
4Denmark
27.08
5Finland
27.12
6Austria
29.47
7France
32.78
8Norway
33.36
9Belgium
38.77
10Iceland
41.96

Scandinavia shows the way

Scandinavian countries are renowned for adopting progressive social policies aimed at improving the quality of life for all who live there, with generous allowances made for both mothers and fathers to help them care for their children. And this is evident in our study, with Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland all ranked in the top 10 countries for parents' work-life balance.

Sweden ranks first with an overall score of 21.49, a full 4.72 points ahead of Luxembourg in second place.

Mothers in Sweden are entitled to the equivalent of 34.7 weeks full paid leave to care for children — that’s nearly triple the entitlement in the UK — and fathers a healthy 10.9 weeks. A Local Purchasing Power Index score of 120.86 indicates that wages in the country are high relative to the cost of living, and this is reflected in the Swede’s average life satisfaction score (7.5), which is the joint highest of any country. Parents of the world: move to Sweden.

best countries for parents' work-life balance

Scandinavian countries offer a great work-life balance for parents

German efficiency

You know what they say about Germans and efficiency? Yeah, turns out it’s absolutely true. People in Germany do, on average, fewer hours of work annually (1,356) than those in any other country — but, despite this, the German economy is still the fourth largest in the world. Those clever Germans.

This is, of course, great news for parents, who are left with more time to look after the nippers and a healthy sum of money in their pockets come payday.

Germany ranks fourth for local purchasing power with a score of 123.27, only narrowly behind Australia (128.6), the US (129.43), and Switzerland (130.09).

And it gets better — working mothers are entitled to maternity and parental leave equivalent to 42.6 weeks full-rate pay. That’s more than in both Sweden and Luxembourg. Were it not for the fact that statutory annual leave is set at a relatively low (but still higher than the UK) 29 days, Germany would rank top in our study.

best countries for maternity leave

Mothers in Estonia are entitled to leave equivalent to 85 weeks full-rate pay — more than in any other country

Eastern Europe is best for maternity leave

Eastern European countries occupy seven of the top 10 places for statutory leave entitlement for mothers. (This figure takes into account the total number of weeks of leave available and adjusts for any reductions in pay.)

Estonia, top of the table, offers leave equivalent to 85 weeks full-rate pay — over twice the entitlement for mothers in the UK.

Top ranking countries for statutory leave for mothers
Overall rank
Country
Statutory leave for mothers —
number of weeks equivalent to
full-rate pay
22
Estonia
85
14
Hungary
71.8
17
Slovakia
53.7
30
Latvia
53.3
16
Czech Republic
53.1
6Austria
51.2
11
Slovenia
48.4
8
Norway
45
3
Germany
42.6
23Poland
41.6

The UK spends big on family benefits

Despite only ranking 13th overall, (many) Britons will be proud to see that the country spends 3.95% of GDP on family benefits, which is more than any other nation in the study and nearly double the 2.2% spent on defence, according to latest government figures. In contrast, the US spends around 1.13% of GDP on family benefits and 3.5% on its military. Priorities, priorities.

Countries ranked in order of spending on public benefits as a percent of GDP

Overall rank
Country
Public spending on family
benefits (% of GDP)
13
United Kingdom
3.95
4
Denmark
3.66
7
France
3.65
1
Sweden
3.64
10
Iceland
3.63

The UK scores 112.86 on the Local Purchasing Power Index — a measure of the relative cost of living between countries — ahead of the likes of Luxembourg, Norway and France.

The picture is less rosy when it comes to paid leave for working parents; mothers in the UK are entitled to the equivalent of 12.1 weeks full paid leave and fathers 0.4. But despite this, and perhaps surprisingly to some, the UK ranks joint first for life satisfaction with a score of 7.5 out of 10, tied with the US, Belgium, Chile and Sweden, no less.

All things considered, UK parents don’t have it too bad.

Mothers and fathers on an equal footing in Japan

Japan has one of the most liberal, and equal, sets of parental leave laws of any country in the world. Statutory leave for mothers equates to approximately 35.8 weeks full-rate pay — a healthy sum. But it’s the 30.4 weeks available to fathers (double that of Korea, which ranks second in this regard) that really sets the country apart.

Interestingly, a 2016 government survey found that, despite this policy, only 2% of Japanese men opted to take paternity leave. Experts attribute this low number to the prevailing view in Japanese society that men should work hard as the family breadwinner while women should bring up the children and do housework.

The bottom 10

The worst countries for parents’ work-life balance
Rank
Country
Score
26
New Zealand
60.57
27
Ireland
61.68
28
Korea
65.12
29
Chile
67.12
30
Latvia
72.06
31Israel
73.34
32United States
74.89
33Turkey
79.95
34Greece
80.76
35Mexico
89.12

Mexico bottom of the pile

Parents in Mexico have it tough. Really tough. Workers there undertake, on average, 2,257 hours of work annually, more than in any other country — and a full 477 hours more than their wall-building friends north of the border.

Statutory leave is just 13 days, and Mexico ranks third to last on the Local Purchasing Power Index — an indication that wages are low relative to the cost of living.

Support provided by the Mexican government to working parents is minimal, with only 1.04% of GDP diverted to spending on family benefits — only Turkey spends less. But despite this, Mexico ranks equal sixth for life satisfaction, tied with Ireland and Norway and ahead of the likes of France, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

America: not so great for parents

The US ranks fourth from bottom ahead of Turkey, Greece and Mexico because it scores well on the Local Purchasing Power Index, but by almost every other measure The States comes dead last.

By law, private employers in America are not required to provide paid leave and, according to government statistics, only around 77% choose to do so; offering, on average, 10 days after a year's service and 20 if you manage to stick it out for 20 years.

Worse still for parents, there is no statutory maternity or paternity entitlement, and public spending on family benefits accounts for just 1.13% of GDP — the third lowest spend of any country in the study.


Does your experience tally with the results of our study? Let us know in the comments section below. We’re always looking for ways to improve our research and your feedback is greatly appreciated.


Methodology

We analysed seven data points for 35 countries. These were:

  1. Average annual hours actually worked per worker (OECD Stats)
  2. Minimum annual leave, including public holidays (various sources)
  3. Number of weeks of leave available to mothers equivalent to full-rate pay (OECD Stats). This figure looks at the total number of weeks of leave available and adjusts for any reductions in pay. It includes maternity leave, as well as the employment-protected parental and child care leave offered in some countries
  4. Number of weeks of leave available to fathers equivalent to full-rate pay (OECD Stats). This figure looks at the total number of weeks of leave available and adjusts for any reductions in pay. It includes maternity leave, as well as the employment-protected parental and child care leave offered in some countries
  5. Local Purchasing Power Index (Numbeo). This score shows relative purchasing power in buying goods and services in a given country. A higher score indicates higher wages relative to the cost of living
  6. Public spending on family benefits as a percent of GDP (OECD Stats). This figure includes cash benefits, tax breaks, and spending on public services for families
  7. Average life satisfaction score (OECD Stats). This indicator considers people’s evaluation of their life as a whole based on the best and worst possible lives for them on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the best possible life

Weighting

The following weights were applied to the data points to determine the final ranking:

  • 1 — 20
  • 2 — 20
  • 3 — 15
  • 4 — 15
  • 5 — 15
  • 6 — 10
  • 7 — 5

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